BIRDLAND — Former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas was in town last week at the Gridiron Greats football camp at the University of West Georgia and shared his thoughts on the Falcons.
Thomas helped the Bills four consecutive AFC championships and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
While the Falcons went 13-3 last season and held the No. 1 seed in the NFC entering the playoffs, Thomas was not too impressed. Also, he had a few tips for how to use Falcons running back Michael Turner.
“Honestly, I think the Falcons are still a long ways away,” Thomas said. “Personally, I think they gave up too much for Julio Jones. They needed to tighten up their defense. That’s what hurt them more than anything. Their defense let them down against Green Bay.”
He made it clear that he likes Jones.
“Julio can turn out to be a awesome and great player,” Thomas said. “But I just think they gave up too much for him. They are on the rise. They have a great young quarterback in Matt Ryan.”
He believes the Falcons are riding Turner too hard.
“They need to start looking for another running back,” Thomas said. “Michael Turner, when you carry that ball 300 times a year for a few years, it puts some wear and tear on your body. I think they need another running back to give him a break every now and again.”
In his first four seasons in the league as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego, Turner never had more than 80 carries in a season.
After signing with the Falcons in 2008, he had 376 carries. He suffered a severe high ankle sprain in 2009 and finished with 178 carries. Last season, he had 334 carries. He went to the Pro Bowl after each of his 300-plus carry seasons.
Thomas played for 13 seasons and had more than 300 carries just twice. He had an impressive string of eight straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1989 to 1996.
“They are definitely an up-and-coming team,” Thomas said. “They are one of those teams that needs to learn how to win on the road. It’s always good to play at home, but you have to learn how to win that key one on the road. They had a great season at home. But I think at the end of the day, their defense kind of let them down. I was surprise that they didn’t help the defense more in the draft.”
The Falcons did draft running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the fifth round of the draft. Jason Snelling, Turner’s main backup last season, could end up as a free agent. Also, Jerious Norwood is trying to battle back from knee surgery. The Falcons also have Antone Smith and Gartrell Johnson on the roster.
Thomas rushed for 12,074 yards and is 14th on the all-time rushing list. Emmitt Smith is No. 1 with 18,355 yards.
“I talk to Emmitt and Barry Sanders a lot too,” Thomas said. “I said you know what, you guys have about two or three thousand yards more than I do, but come December I was playing in ice. I was playing in snow. If I was playing in Dallas or inside like Barry I’d probably would have another 3,000 yards. I could have been the all-time leading rusher if I didn’t play on ice, sleet and snow.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog